Aside from a lack of policy competence and verbal facility, however, Perry has made another negative impression that may be hurting him with a still-free people. It was captured in a focus group of 12 Ohio voters -- Democrats, Republicans and independents -- recently conducted by pollster Peter Hart (as reported by the Washington Post's Dan Balz). At one point, participants were asked to imagine themselves in fifth grade and fit the candidates into a menu of class types. The result for Perry:
In the fifth-grade exercise, eight of the 12 wrote down “bully” as the kind of kid he reminded them of. When the discussion turned to other attributes, he was described as the kind of neighbor others would not want to mess with, or someone who would build a fence around his property, or someone who would be in everybody else’s business.Bingo! Don't mess with Texas, but don't make him president either. The guy who equates a monetary policy he doesn't like with "treason" and threatens bodily harm to its author, who likewise impugns the president's motives and legitimacy as commander in chief and flirts with birtherism, who presents a series of slurs (Ponzi scheme, criminal enterprise) as a program critique, perhaps doesn't sit too well with voters across the political spectrum.
Perry reportedly has some people skills. The Weekly Standard's John McCormack claimed to see them in an interaction with Dartmouth students at a "friendly frat house" in the aftermath of his weak debate performance there:
During a brief question-and-answer session, Perry asked students to raise their hands if they think Social Security will be around for them when they retire. Two or three hands popped up. "Those guys believe in the Tooth Fairy, as well," Perry cracked. The students laughed. "Just kidding, brother," he added with a smile.To McCormack, this incident bespeaks geniality and something like empathy. To me, it reveals, again, a bully. Perry asked the students an obviously leading question -- he had long since made headlines denigrating social security as a Ponzi scheme -- and dispatched those who gave the "wrong" answer with a putdown -- then covered it with that same patronizing faux intimacy he offered Herman Cain in the next debate ("brother"). If the students were reasonably informed and so inclined, would he have been able to bump social security projections with them? I doubt it. But apparently, he wasn't interested in genuine debate and engagement (unless McCormack cut off the narrative).
Perry spent 10 minutes shaking hands after he spoke. He asked students questions about their lives, displaying a near-Clintonesque ability to make each student feel like he or she is the only one in the room. The dull Perry who showed up at Tuesday's debate was not the same upbeat and good humored Perry who showed up at the Beta house.